An Occupational Therapist in Georgia (the country)

posted September 28, 2017 by Paige Bookoff, Inside Jewish Georgia & Azerbaijan Alum

Entwine alumna Paige Bookoff traveled with Entwine on Inside Jewish Georgia & Azerbaijan this past July. Growing up in Baltimore, MD, she was an active member of her Jewish community and, today, lives in San Diego, CA where she works as an occupational therapist with children with disabilities. Paige became involved with JDC Entwine out of a desire to learn more about, and connect with the global Jewish community. Following her trip, together with San Diego Community Rep Simone Abelsohn, Paige, recently hosted a group of twenty young adults for a Georgian themed dinner. At the dinner Paige shared these reflections of her trip.

It was Thursday July 20th –the drum like sound of my alarm went off and the sun was shining through the hotel curtains. It was time to get ready and begin day four of the trip. I completed my morning routine and headed downstairs for breakfast with my roommate. Breakfast included homemade omelets, fresh fruits and veggies, and a plethora of other savory and sweet delights. After breakfast, our whole group hopped on the bus and headed to the Jewish Community Center in Tbilisi.

At the JCC in Tbilisi we conversed with a group of elderly Jewish women who shared their interesting and diverse stories with us. The ease with which this, and countless other conversations flowed throughout the trip, demonstrated the unspoken connection that stems just from being Jewish. At the conclusion of our back-and-forth dialogue, we bid them farewell and gathered at the exit to receive the instructions for our next excursion for the day—the home visits to at risk youth in Tbilisi.

I stood in a disorganized huddle with my fellow Entwine participants, excitedly and anxiously waiting for my assignment for the home visit. The pieces of paper were handed out at random by one of the trip leaders, except for mine. She turned to me and said, “I want you to go this specific family’s home—they have a child with special needs.” She hands me the piece of paper reading “The Bokuchava Family.”

The piece of paper provided us with some background information on the family as a whole and about the girl specifically. As a clinician, I began to scan the document to extract key words and phrases that would facilitate my potential understanding of the environment and this family who I was about to interact with: four children, ages 4, 5, 6, and 7, mother and father unemployed, refugees from Sukhumi, verbal stock was limited, problems with speech development, problems with use of dining items, asocial behavior, importance of education for parents and kids, mental retardation of early development, speech therapist, and psychologist.

My clinical brain might have kicked in reading all of this information on the bus ride to this family’s home, but when I arrived and began to walk up a set of steep, rickety stairs with PVC pipes to my right, my human heart BEAT much stronger. This background information was just one piece of a very fragmented and complex puzzle that is human life.

At the top of the steps, I reached a porch-like area that opened up into a single room that this family of six shared. This single room contained one bed, one table, a few chairs, and some other sporadic items. The mother was standing off to one side while the grandmother was sitting on a “sofa-chair” with the four kids encircling her. Later on, it was revealed to us that the father did not want to be present upon our arrival for he felt shame and embarrassment that he himself could not provide for his family.

We entered into the room and introduced ourselves to the mother, grandmother, and the four children. The verbal exchange throughout the home visit experience occurred through a translator. We said our names and what city/country we lived in. We asked the mother some general questions about living in Georgia, her family, and JDC. As the conversation was flowing, the children were running about barefoot between the porch-area and the single room we were all gathered in. When we asked the mother if she had any questions for us, she began to cry and stated, “thank you, thank you, thank you…” She said she was SO grateful for everything JDC had provided and will continue to provide to her family, and that she was sorry she was so emotional; it was too hard to ask us questions, but we could keep asking her! To this mother, we were individually and collectively representative of JDC, so she continuously expressed her gratitude towards us.

My fellow JDC Entwine participants turned towards me and said, “Would you like to have some time to interact with the girl Maya?” I responded, “Are you sure you are all okay with that- I would LOVE to, but I do not want to detract from your experiences.” Everyone agreed, and my indelible interaction with Maya began.

Incase any one of you had been wondering what princess coloring pages have to do with the Georgian community; you’re about to find out.

Through the translator, I informed the mother that I am a pediatric occupational therapist, and I work with kids with special needs on daily living skills, such as eating, using utensils, showering, getting dressed, writing, and many other skill areas. I asked the mother, “Would it be okay if I do an activity with your daughter Maya? The mother replied, “Please, go ahead!”

I shifted my position at the table, pulled out my princess coloring book and markers, and asked the daughter if she would color with me! She delightfully agreed. I watched as she searched through the book in awe, deciding what page she wanted to choose to color first. I told her she could pick any page she wanted and use all of the markers. I wanted to see what she did without any outside influence, so I simply observed for a couple minutes. She glanced at me, so I smiled and said, “You’re doing great, it looks beautiful!” After observing, I asked her if I could show her a trick for how to hold her marker when she colors—she said, “okay!”

After demonstrating this technique for holding a marker that involves a coin, Maya resumed her coloring utilizing the new technique. After a little bit, I asked her, “Is this easy, or is this hard?” She replied, “This is pretty easy!” I allowed her to keep coloring a little while longer, continuously providing verbal and non-verbal positive reinforcement and encouragement for what she was accomplishing!! After a few minutes, I asked her if she wants to try and hold the marker the way she is holding it now, but without the coin. I re-assured her, “it’s okay if you cannot do it, let’s just try!” Well, she COULD DO IT!!

With a smile spread across her face, Maya jumped into my lap and wrapped her arms around my body, and quite shocking to me, tears began to stream down my face.

I cannot remember the last time I cried—maybe it was the sleep deprivation, maybe it was the fact that I honestly did so little, yet she was able to feel and express such PURE LOVE and gratitude towards a complete stranger.

That’s the thing about kids—what makes them so unbelievably special—it’s that pure love. That love that life taints, but that we should all try and spend everyday striving to feel, and express, and hold onto.

JDC’s work does not provide people with diamonds, cars, or a mansion- it provides people with basic human needs: shelter, food, medical services, freedom, education, and to these communities–It is EVERYTHING!